Hiking poles are a great accessory for hikers, backpackers, trail runners and trekkers. They can improve your stability, reduce the impact on your knees and joints, and help you move faster and more efficiently on different terrains. But how do you choose the right hiking poles for your needs and preferences? Here are some factors to consider:
Hiking poles come in different designs that affect how they collapse, adjust and pack. Generally speaking, you can choose between three types of designs:
Three-section telescoping poles: These are the most common and versatile type of poles. They have three segments that slide into each other and lock with a twist or a lever mechanism. They allow you to adjust the length of the poles within a wide range, usually between 12 and 16 inches. They are also very strong and durable. The main drawback of these poles is that they have a longer minimum packed size than other designs, which can make them harder to stow away when not in use.
Folding poles: These are the lightest and most compact type of poles. They have three or four segments that fold into a Z-shape and snap together with a cord or a button. They have a fixed length that cannot be adjusted, but you can choose from different sizes depending on your height. They are ideal for activities that require frequent stowing and deploying of the poles, such as trail running or climbing. The main drawback of these poles is that they are less sturdy and durable than telescoping poles.
Combination poles: These are a hybrid type of poles that combine the features of telescoping and folding poles. They have two or three segments that fold into a Z-shape and one segment that slides into another and locks with a twist or a lever mechanism. They allow you to adjust the length of the poles within a narrow range, usually between 4 and 8 inches. They are more compact than telescoping poles but more adjustable than folding poles. The main drawback of these poles is that they are more expensive and complex than other designs.
The length of your hiking poles is important for your comfort and efficiency. The general rule is that your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle when you hold the poles with tips on the ground near your feet. This will ensure that your arms and shoulders are relaxed and that your poles are not too long or too short for your stride.
To find the right length for you, you can use one of these methods:
Use a size chart: Most manufacturers provide a size chart that recommends pole lengths based on your height. You can use this as a rough guide, but keep in mind that it may not account for your personal preferences or terrain variations.
Use an adjustable pole: If you have an adjustable pole, you can fine-tune the length by following these steps: Turn the pole upside down and grip it under the basket (the small disc at the end of the tip). Your elbow should be at a 90-degree angle. If not, adjust the length until it is. Repeat with the other pole. Make sure both poles are set at the same length.
Use a fixed-length pole: If you have a fixed-length pole, you can measure it by following these steps: Stand upright with your arms at your sides. Hold the pole horizontally in front of you with one hand on each end. The pole should be slightly shorter than your shoulder width. If not, choose a different size.
Hiking poles come with various features that can enhance their performance and functionality. Some of these features include:
Shock absorption: Some poles have an internal spring or cushioning system that absorbs some of the impact when you plant them on the ground. This can reduce fatigue and stress on your joints, especially on downhill sections. However, shock-absorbing poles are also heavier, more expensive and less reliable than non-shock-absorbing poles.
Grip material: The grip material affects how comfortable and secure you feel when holding the poles. The most common materials are cork, rubber and foam. Cork is natural, breathable and molds to your hand shape over time. Rubber is durable, waterproof and provides good traction in wet conditions. Foam is soft, lightweight and absorbs sweat.
Strap material: The strap material affects how comfortable and secure you feel when wearing the poles around your wrists. The most common materials are nylon, polyester and leather. Nylon and polyester are synthetic, durable and easy to adjust. Leather is natural, breathable and comfortable.
Tip material: The tip material affects how well the poles grip the ground and how durable they are. The most common materials are steel, carbide and rubber. Steel is strong, cheap and good for soft surfaces. Carbide is harder, more expensive and good for hard surfaces. Rubber is soft, flexible and good for paved surfaces.
Basket size: The basket size affects how well the poles prevent sinking into soft surfaces such as snow or mud. The most common sizes are small, medium and large. Small baskets are light, compact and good for hard surfaces. Medium baskets are versatile and good for mixed surfaces. Large baskets are heavy, bulky and good for soft surfaces.
Hiking poles are a useful accessory that can make your hiking experience more enjoyable and efficient. To choose the right hiking poles for you, consider the design configuration, length and features that suit your needs and preferences. You can also try out different poles before buying them to see how they feel in your hands and on the ground. Happy hiking!